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6 Top Barrel Racing Horse Breeds – How to Win The Jackpot

What are the best barrel racing horse breeds for barrel racing? Not many equine sports can match the thrill of barrel racing. And if you plan to pursue barrel racing as a career, you’ll want a horse that gives you the greatest chance of success.

That means, you’ve got to choose from the best barrel racing horse breeds if you want to win.

You’ll be investing countless hours in training and working with your horse. So, selecting from the best barrel racing horse breeds is crucial.

Buying a horse is a giant investment of money, time, and dreams. And you need to get it right. In this article, you’ll learn what a horse needs to be a contender. I’ll also show you which breeds have the characteristics to make a great barrel racing horse.

Western Riding’s Greatest Sport

While any horse can compete in local fun events, if you want to become a professional barrel racer, you’ll need a horse that has what it takes to be a contender. And not every horse can or will measure up. But when you find one that does, it’s spectacular to watch. In western sports, barrel racing is huge.

No wonder.

The Thrill Of The Challenge

It takes speed, agility, and excellent horsemanship to excel. It’s pure excitement to watch the adrenaline-charged team of horse and rider race through the clover-leaf pattern as the time clock measures their performance.

For many, barrel racing is the most exciting equine sport in existence.

Barrel racing has been an enthusiastically embraced sport for a very long time. Though originally, it was strictly a woman’s sport. In the early 1930s, speed wasn’t as important in judging the contest. Speed was secondary to the rider’s clothes and their horsemanship in riding the patterns. The sport didn’t become all about speed until 1949.

Modern Barrel Racing

Today, barrel racing is highly competitive, and for good reason. Payouts and award packages combined can be greater than $250,000 at the professional level. But it’s also a very expensive sport to compete at top levels.

No longer is it a sport where clothing is considered in judging.

It’s all about speed. One minor error can cost a rider a win. Also, barrel racing is no longer strictly a woman’s sport. Though women and girls still dominate as competitors, it’s open to everyone…women, girls, men, and boys.

The Right Horse

It doesn’t matter who the competitor is, the one thing they all have in common is the horse. The best rider can’t make a winner of the wrong horse. And most horse breeds are not cut out for barrel racing at the professional level.

Crucial to winning is the horse’s athleticism and mental state, in addition to the rider’s horsemanship. While these are not “judged” they are needed to win. The only judge in barrel racing is the timeclock.

And the list of horse breeds ready to take on that clock is short. But the ones that measure up don’t just meet what’s needed to excel, they define the sport.

What Makes A Winner?

Barrel racing requires a strong horse with speed, agility, the ability to turn fast and take off with an explosive burst of speed. But that isn’t enough. The horse needs a good temperament, and must be intelligent and willing to learn.

A good barrel prospect must have the right conformation. It takes an athletic, balanced horse to excel at barrels.

Characteristics of the Horse

A barrel racing horse should be short backed with a long underline. It needs to have a compact body, a sloping shoulder, good muscles, and strong, powerful hindquarters. The legs should be strong and clean with short cannon bones and good hooves to withstand the impact of racing.

A few breeds meet these requirements better than all others. To decide what kind of horse you want, you need to determine which breed is perfect for you.

Top Barrel Racing Horse Breeds

One breed outshines all others.

The undisputed ruler of barrel racing is the American Quarter Horse. One of the oldest breeds in North America, it’s also one of the most popular. This versatile horse excels at rodeo and speed events.

Built for sprinting, no breed is faster at the quarter mile, for which the American Quarter Horse is named. With top speeds of 55 mph, this is a racing force to reckon with. With a long history of racing, these horses can fly through the patterns and race the timeclock in spectacular style. American Quarter Horses have a good temperament, are intelligent, and are easy to work with and train.

They excel at executing agile, tight turns, then making explosive take offs to the next barrel.

Barrel Racing Horse Breeds Pick #1
Appendix Quarter Horse

best barrel racing horse breeds

Another strong contender is the Appendix Quarter Horse, which is a first-generation cross between an American Quarter Horse and a Thoroughbred.

This can be a cross of an American Quarter Horse mare and a Thoroughbred stallion, or a cross of a Thoroughbred mare and an American Quarter Horse stallion. And it is the only cross permitted by the American Quarter Horse Association in which the foal may be registered.

The mix of these two great racing breeds creates another powerhouse barrel racer.

Appendix horses have a similar personality to the American Quarter Horse. They also have the same versatility. These horses can be on the bigger side like a Thoroughbred, or small and stockier like an American Quarter Horse.

They also tend to be very competitive.

Barrel Racing Horse Breeds Pick #2
Thoroughbred Horse

barrel racing horse breeds

The right kind of Thoroughbred, placed in the right hands, can excel at barrel racing. The right Thoroughbred is intelligent, eager to learn and please, has stamina, and is tenacious.

The Thoroughbred, while with the ideal conformation for barrel racing, does not have the build of distance racing horses. The right horse will have a compact and athletic frame.

Sprinting Thoroughbreds can usually turn with agility and accelerate with ease. While Thoroughbreds are hot-bloods, and may need an experienced rider, the top barrel racing riders are all pros and should be able to manage them with ease.

Barrel Racing Horse Breeds Pick #3
Paint Horses

best barrel racing horse breeds

The Paint horse was in the same gene pool as the American Quarter Horse. In 1940, the American Quarter Horse Association formed and excluded all horses with too much white (paints).

They are strong, well balanced, and have powerful hindquarters. And they possess speed and agility from the American Quarter Horse, making them an excellent choice for barrel racing.

They’re intelligent, very trainable, good tempered horses. Paints can have vivid and beautiful coloring that makes them stand out. The Paint is basically a Quarter Horse wrapped in a spectacular coat.

Barrel Racing Horse Breeds Pick #4
Appaloosa Horse

barrel racing horse breeds

Appaloosas also have American Quarter Horse blood.

They’re fast, agile, and athletic. Appaloosas are intelligent, willing horses with compact, muscular bodies. These horses are tough, versatile, and excel at barrel racing. They make an excellent choice for a competition horse.

They can have beautiful spotted coats in many patterns and will stand out at any competition.

Barrel Racing Horse Breeds Pick #5
Arabian Horses

Arabians are race horses of the desert. They’re exceptionally beautiful too. Arabians are known for their stamina, speed, and agility. These horses definitely excel at barrel racing. The Arabian horse is highly intelligent, a quick learner, and good temperament.

They’re versatile and loyal horses.

Barrel Racing Horse Breeds Pick #6
Mustang Horses

barrel racing horse breeds

Mustangs are the descendants of Spanish type horses. They’re on the smaller side, but they’re fast, agile, and tough. With proper training, some of these horses can excel at barrel racing.

The difficulty of training will depend on the horse’s personality itself.

Mustangs who have been feral will take a lot more work than one that was born to a now domesticated mare. Horses that have been feral for most of their lives may take a lot more work to get them to a level where they can remain calm in a crowded, noisy atmosphere.

They’ll need the mental capacity, temperament, and willingness to become good at the sport. But if you find the right horse, Mustangs can be excellent competitors.

Best Barrel Racing Horse Breeds Conclusion

The list of breeds to pick from for a barrel racer may not be long, but the quality of those breeds is top notch. Barrel racing is a demanding, exciting event where big money can be won. But considering the costs associated with this sport, if you’re serious, you need to carefully evaluate any horse you’re considering.

Pick the right horse, train him well, and you may very well be on your way to the best numbers on the timeclock. If you find that barrel racing is something you want to pursue as a career, you’ll probably want to purchase more horses at some point.

The first step is knowing which barrel racing breeds to pick. Then you can achieve your goals.
Stay with the breeds that have a great track record time and time again. Those are the barrel racing horse breeds that can and will get the job done.

You’ll be miles ahead of the person who doesn’t know that only certain breeds will consistently produce winners. How about you? Did you find this barrel racing horse breeds post helpful? If so, please leave your comments below.

If you’re looking for great barrel racing saddles, please read my Martha Josey Ultimate Cash Barrel Saddle review. Or, you can click on this link and find a wide selection of barrel racing saddles.


  • John says:

    Hi Shalisha,
    This was fascinating to read about the different horse breeds. I’m from Australia and mainly hear about the Thoroughbreads down here and sometimes Arabian and Mustang. So it was really interesting to learn the qualities of breeds that I hadn’t heard of before – American Quarter Horse, Pain Horse and Appaloosa.

    Are there any other unique breeds of horse that originates from Australia that could be added to this list?

    I am moving to an area soon where there are people with horses and horse paddocks, so am getting more interested in this sport.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi John. Thanks for your comment. I don’t know of any unique breed of horse that originates from Australia. But I suggest that if you’re moving to an area where there is an abundance of horseback riding, I’d contact the locals. And when you do, please stop back by so I can recommend a good saddle for you. Best of luck.

  • Nina says:

    Great article. You really know a lot about horses. I’ve never seen this type of race but I’m sure it’s fun to watch. And yes, the horse has to be agile and able to pick up speed quickly. You have described the horses very well. They are beautiful too. Thanks for this article and for teaching me about these variety of horses. It was very worthwhile.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Nina. Thanks for commenting! Horses are beautiful. I’d love to own one. Yes, to barrel race, the horse has to be intelligent, fast and agile in order to run the clover leaf pattern in short time. It’s my pleasure to write about horses as I learn so much about them too. I’m glad you enjoyed my post.

  • Sylvia says:

    I love this post, Shalisha! I know as a child I loved the Arabian horses, the Appaloosas, and the Mustangs, such beautiful horses. I read your posts and I would love to live in Northern America. In the Netherlands, I don’t see that kind of event, but maybe I need to investigate. But reading your posts brings me back to my childhood dreams, and they become alive again. The different horses and the aspects they need to own for the Barrel race are so lovely to read! Thank you very much, Shalisha! I enjoy your website and articles!

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Sylvia. Thanks so much for your feedback. I’m glad my post created nostalgia. Barrel racing is such an exciting and scary event. It gives you an adrenaline rush just watching it. I’ve never been to a live one though. Hopefully one day I will go to a live one. Stop back by again anytime.

  • Milionária says:

    Awesome article! I find it very helpful. It made me want to see a barrel racing close up. I wish there was such racing in UK. I’m amazed at how many type of horses there and their ability to win races. I often see some horses at nearby park. I wonder if they also have the potential to win a race. Probably not, otherwise they would be there. I think they may just be working horses. Not sure what kind of breed they are, but are less elegant and polished looking as the one seen on the Royal Ascot. Do the Royal Ascot use the same type of horse breed as In the Barrel racing?

    Thank you

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi there. Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Yes, different horses are better suited for different things – just like there are different saddle types which are used for different horse riding disciplines. As far as I know, Thoroughbreds are used in Ascot racing. Thanks for stopping by.

  • My daughter owned a thoroughbred when she was competing in Modern Pentathlon (an Olympic event that combines 5 sports, including Show Jumping).

    But I’ve always had a soft spot for Quarter Horses. Their agility and sprint speed are phenomenal.

    Barrel racing looks like a fantastic sport. Reading your article makes me wish I were younger.

    But I’ll certainly have a look at your saddle recommendations.

    Thank you, Shalisha for a most interesting post.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Phi. Thank you for your comment! Barrel racing sure is exciting, and dangerous. I would love to own a thoroughbred. Maybe some day. Don’t we all wish we were younger? When I was younger, I couldn’t wait to be older. LOL. Now that I’m older, I wish I was younger. It’s all about acceptance my friend. Glad you enjoyed my post. And please do have a look at my saddle recommendations.

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